Three Very Small Thoughts About (the Debate Over) Indiana’s RFRA

Three Very Small Thoughts About (the Debate Over) Indiana’s RFRA March 31, 2015

1. Cooking is an art, cakes are art, compelled creation of beauty is compelled speech. I feel like the denial that cakery is/should be expressive, that food bears meaning, is somehow Gnostic and class-biased (or sexist? if your grandma could do it, it must not be art?), but maybe that’s self-parody on my part. Anyway beauty + meaning, to me, pretty clearly = art. And photography is even more obviously art, right?

2. Still… I wonder how different this debate would look if more gay people felt confident that Christians know how common discrimination, harassment, and violence are in our lives. I mean I didn’t really know this myself for a long time. I was very sheltered. The past few years, in which I’ve gotten to know lots of gay people from different backgrounds (mostly Christian, mostly celibate, it turns out this doesn’t protect you–not that any of my friends asked it to), have been eye-opening for me.

And quite often I find straight people are even more surprised than I was to hear about the frequency and sordid creativity of anti-gay acts. I hope I’m remembering this right, but at a retreat I was at, the leader asked how many of the non-straight participants had either experienced violence as a result of sexual orientation ourselves, or had close friends who had experienced this violence. And I think all of us had. (Close friends, in my case.) And the straight people were shocked. When I tell this story now, people’s eyes widen–I mean, straight people’s eyes widen.

There are all kinds of little facts like this: Most of my celibate gay Christian friends have had therapists blame their parents for their orientation (regardless of what the kid said) and insist that they must be uncomfortable in their gender. Many of them have lost or been denied jobs in Christian institutions explicitly because they’re gay/same-sex attracted, even though they upheld that institution’s sexual ethic and sought to live by it. My friends who work with homeless youth have said that kids who have been thrown out of their homes will say, “Well, my parents are Christians,” as if that’s an obvious explanation for parental rejection. We have a sharply bifurcated culture, where like Glee is on tv and Tim Cook is a gazillionaire, and yet countless kids are being harassed, berated, and thrown out of their homes for being gay.

I am not convinced most straight people know that stuff, and think it’s awful. I am definitely not convinced that most gay people trust that our heterosexual brethren know and reject that stuff. That’s some of what you’re hearing in the “slippery slope” arguments, Can they refuse to carry us in the ambulance? Can they kick our family out of the restaurant?

3. Since that Christianity Today piece about attending gay weddings, I’ve thought about what the options are for people who can’t in good conscience attend a wedding. If I had a friend who was getting married in a way I really couldn’t attend, I think I’d ask questions like, “I honestly can’t do this, as a matter of faith, but could I come to your reception?” Or I’d try to come over beforehand and bring a gift. What can you support, in another person’s life? Could you offer to babysit their kids, or ask them to babysit yours? Could you encourage them to lean on you for help in every practical way you can offer? I don’t suggest these things because I think they would “work,” as a matter of PR or even witness, but because I think they would help “conscientious objectors” become, also, servants.

In the case of wedding vendors, what would this incorporation of servanthood look like? Could someone say, “I can’t receive payment for a gay wedding event, but I will do it for free”? Could they say, “I can’t take your photos for this specific event, because I can’t honor what my faith forbids, but I can give you five free sessions”? What if we took Matt 5:41 as a key text here, and asked how we could “go the extra mile” with someone?

I, uh, don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t blame specific vendors for not coming up with them under pressure. Also there are probably much better ways of living out servanthood which I haven’t thought of. (“I can bake you a cake with Leviticus 18:22 on it!” does not count.) But I wonder if this approach could shift how both churches and individual Christians related to people they have to turn down for any reason.

Final thought: I know Indiana’s law is not about wedding cakes! But I have no thoughts on the other issues which better-informed people have not already stated.

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